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How to Select a Crabapple

Crabapple is the most popular small tree in North Dakota. Lots of cultivars are available. Here is how to select the best one for you!

One of the most beautiful sights in spring is a blooming crabapple. They are spectacular!

It’s no wonder the crabapple is the favorite small tree in North Dakota. If you go to a garden center, you will find lots of different crabapple cultivars available.

Which one is best for you? Here are some tips to help you make a choice.

Hardiness. This is always the first consideration when selecting a tree. It makes no sense to buy a tree that will die over winter. All crabapple cultivars discussed in this article are hardy to Zone 4. If you live in the far northern area of the state, focus on cultivars hardy to Zone 3.

Flower Color. This is usually the key factor. Pink or white? Besides your personal color preference, keep in mind where the tree will be planted. What is the background? For example, a white-blossomed tree will be less showy if the background is a white building. Likewise, a tree with dark pink flowers may not contrast well against a red brick building.

Fruit Persistence. This is very important! Why do we focus so much on flower color? The flowers will remain on the tree for only a couple weeks. I encourage you to consider how long the fruits persist on the tree. Some cultivars have fruit that persist on the tree through much of the fall and winter, adding color to our landscapes for several months. Cultivars known for their persistent fruits include ‘Adams’, ‘Adirondack’, ‘Donald Wyman’, Harvest Gold®, ‘Prairifire’, ‘Profusion’, Red Jewel®, ‘Red Splendor’, Royal Raindrops®, ‘Sargent’ and Sugar Tyme®.

Fruit Size. Smaller is better. Larger fruits generally create bigger messes when they drop. Avoid cultivars with fruits that are 2/3 inch or larger in diameter. Pea-sized fruits are much less messy and often stay on the tree longer.

Lack of Fruit. For gardeners who hate the mess created by dropping fruits, sterile cultivars are available, namely Marilee® and ‘Spring Snow’. Sterile trees are most useful in patios and courtyards.

Fruit Color. We automatically think crabapple fruits are red, but some cultivars produce golden yellow fruits. That’s special. These cultivars include Cinderella®, Harvest Gold®, Lollipop® and ‘Louisa’.

Not all red fruits are the same. Some red fruits are dark and dull. Others are brilliant. Cultivars with the brightest fruits include ‘Adirondack’, ‘Donald Wyman’, Red Jewel® and ‘Sargent’.

Foliage Color. Trees with purple or bronze foliage will stand out and make an eye-catching statement in the landscape. These cultivars include ‘Cardinal’, Gladiator™, ‘Prairifire’, ‘Purple Prince’, ‘Royal Beauty’ and ‘Royal Raindrops®’.

On the other hand, a crabapple with green foliage can provide a more natural, relaxing effect in landscapes.

Tree Shape. Many cultivars have a rounded canopy, but some have upright to columnar canopies suitable for tight spaces. These include ‘Adirondack’, Gladiator™, Ivory Spear™ and ‘Marilee®’.

A few cultivars (‘Louisa’, ‘Royal Beauty’ and Ruby Tears™) have graceful, weeping habits; this can make a statement as a specimen tree in your landscape.

‘Sargent’ is a great choice if you are looking for a dwarf (8-foot-high) tree with a horizontal habit.

Resistance to Disease. Look for trees that resist diseases. It’s heart-breaking to have a crabapple tree that drops its leaves in mid-summer due to scab disease or dies prematurely from fire blight. Scab is more of a problem in the eastern part of our state because of its higher humidity.

More Information. Look over the online charts of Johnson’s and J. Frank Schmidt nurseries. Most local nurseries get their products from Bailey Nursery. Go to their website, type in “crabapple”; and learn about their selections.

Crabapple cultivars have been reviewed by NDSU researchers for decades. The authoritative publication that describes their work is Choice Flowering Crabapple Cultivars for the Northern Plains.

The following chart is a summary of the some of the finest crabapple cultivars for North Dakota. Available as PDF.

Adams 4 20 20 Rounded Green Pink Red; 5/8"; persistent Good Excel.
Adirondack 4 18 12 Upright Green White Bright red; 1/2"; abundant; persistent Excel. Exc.
Cardinal 4 15 20 Spreading Dark red, glossy Deep pink-red Deep red; 1/2" Excel. Good
Cinderella® 4 8 5 Oval Dark green, cut White Yellow; 1/4"; persistent Fair Excel.
Donald Wyman 4 20 25 Rounded Green, glossy White Bright red; 3/8"; abundant; persistent Good Fair
Firebird® 4 10 10 Rounded Dark green White Bright red; 3/8"; persistent Excel. Excel.
Gladiator 2 20 9 Upright Bronze-purple Bright pink Red-purple; small Good Good
Harvest Gold® 4 20 20 Rounded Dark green White Gold; 1/2"; persistent Fair Fair
Ivory Spear 4 18 7 Narrow Dark green White Bright red; 1/2" Excel. Excel.
Lollipop® 4 10 10 Rounded Green White Gold-yellow; 3/8" Good Good
Louisa 4 10 12 Weeping Dark green, glossy Pink Gold-yellow; 3/8" Good Good
Marilee® 4 24 10 Narrow Green Double white Nearly sterile Good Good
Perfect Purple 4 20 20 Rounded Deep purple Deep pink-rose Purple-red Fair Fair
Prairifire 4 20 20 Rounded Ages to red-green Bright magenta Maroon; 1/2"; persistent Excel. Good
Profusion 4 20 20 Upright Ages to bronze Red-purple Maroon; 1/2"; persistent Fair Good
Purple Prince 4 20 20 Rounded Ages to bronze-green Rose-red Maroon; 1/2" Excel. Good
Red Jewel® 4 15 12 Upright Dark green White Bright red; 1/2"; persistent Good Fair
Red Splendor 3 23 20 Upright Ages to green Bright pink Bright red; 1/2"; persistent Good Fair
Royal Beauty 3 10 8 Weeping Purple Dark pink Dark red; 1/2"; persistent Good Excel.
Royal Raindrops® 4 20 15 Upright Purple, cutleaf Bright pink-red Red; 1/4"; persistent Excel. Good
Ruby Dayze® 4 22 16 Upright Ages to bronze Bright magenta Deep red; 1/4" Excel. Excel.
Ruby Tears 4 8 13 Weeping Burgundy-green Pink Dark red; 3/8" Good Excel.
Sargent 4 8 12 Horizontal Dark green White Bright red; 1/4; abundant; persistent Excel. Excel.
Show Time 3 22 20 Rounded Bronze-green Bright pink-red Red; 1/2" Fair Good
Spring Snow 4 25 20 Oval Bright green White Nearly sterile Poor Fair
Sugar Tyme® 4 18 15 Oval Green White Red; 1/2"; persistent Excel. Good
Tina 4 6 8 Rounded Dark green, small White Bright red; 1/4" Excel. Good


Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Photos courtesy of keeva999 (home page), Bailey Nursery and Plant Image Library

Information from the above chart was obtained from similar charts from Johnson's Nursery and J. Frank Schmidt and information from Bailey Nursery.

Most local nurseries get their products from Bailey Nursery. Learn about all of their selections

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